Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso
Canada’s Eric Lamaze put in a phenomenal effort with his stunning 13 year old bay mare Fine Lady 5 to win the opening CSI5* speed class in the glittering destination of Antwerp. Under the floodlights, the Canadian delivered a fast and agile round in the intimate sand arena, nestled next to the gently flowing River Scheldt. The European leg of the LGCT opened with a display of power and horsemanship, as Eric held off home favourite Gregory Wathelet (BEL), who had set a good early pace, both taking out strides in the first line and not looking back.
The 1,45m opening course was kind, however encouraged a fast pace, and for riders to gallop the distance between fences. Eric set a pace that caused several to then play for a place as he looked un-catchable, showing form and serious intention for the rest of the weekend. Clears came sparingly in the field in the early stages which altered the strategy of many, meaning a careful round would see finishers in the prize money. With several Grand Prix rides getting their first LGCT outing of the season, some had Saturday on their mind and it would be a class full of interest for those talent spotting.
Home rider Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Lilly Lordanos were the first to go clear, stopping the clock at 62.81s much to the delight of the home crowd, as the World Number 7 put in an impressive performance early on in the competition, second of the 50 strong field to go. Belgium initially dominated the top five, with Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) and H&M Challenge V. Begijnakker, Niels Bruynseels (BEL) and Gancia de Muze, and Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Sunshine putting in strong performances on their home turf.
But it was Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Fine Lady 5 who stole the show; a pair that have a turn of foot like no other, as they were able defeat a field without breaking a sweat. It was a masterclass of how to ride in a rhythm, looking unhurried but lightening fast. Gregory in the same category is such a superb horseman that he could do the same and showed how to take a less experienced 5* pairing can show the others the way. Lauren Hough and Ohlala were of no surprise to go into the leading few, as the pair skated around, as we have seen so many times before, to turn tight and leave themselves effortlessly into 3rd place.
The home crowd would find comfort in seeing four of Belgian riders in the top 10, boding well for the rest of the week. A total of 18 riders jumped clear, with Daniel Deusser (GER), Lauren Hough (USA), Jessica Mendoza (GBR), Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER), Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Marco Kutscher (GER) all looking on form ahead of this weekend’s Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Antwerp.